It was only our second day on the road when we’d hit our first snag of the trip. The original plan was for us to leave Colorado Springs that afternoon and arrive at a unique attraction in Hooper, Colorado sometime in the evening. Unfortunately, our GPS couldn’t find the listed address no matter how many different ways we tried entering it in. Making matters even worse, neither of our cell phones could get any service unless we were near a metropolitan area. So much for Google Maps! I dug into the glove compartment and retrieved an old school, paper one but, with our eyes crossing from fatigue and unsure where to even look, it wasn’t much help either.
We’d already completed a full day of activities including the Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, as well as the May Insect Museum. At this point we were understandably starting to lose steam and opted to just go straight to our hotel in Alamosa (three hours south) with the intention of resuming our search the next morning. Our hope was that the human element would prevail where technology fell short and that one of the locals could point us in the right direction. After all, in the sparsely populated San Luis Valley, surely someone will have heard of the UFO Watch Tower.
The Watch Tower is really more of an observation platform created by Stan and Judy Messoline in 2000. They’d originally bought the property in 1995 with plans of turning it into a ranch but, intrigued by all the local UFO lore, decided to use the land for this purpose instead. UFO enthusiasts know that the San Luis Valley is a hot-spot for sightings and this location now provides visitors from all over the world (and likely beyond) a place to comfortably “Keep Watching the Skies.” Judy has become something of a celebrity for those who believe while embracing her title as “that crazy lady down the road” from those who don’t. Needless to say, I knew the Watch Tower was a “Must See” for us Terror Daves and was sickened by the notion of a GPS glitch causing us to miss out.
The next day we were in the middle of eating our complimentary hotel breakfast when I asked the manager (who was busy replenishing the orange juice) if she knew anything about the Watch Tower. I half expected her to look at us as if we were nuts but instead she lit up a smile and told us exactly where it was. We took down her directions and wasted no time heading out; eventually finding the place twenty miles north of our hotel. Our joy was short-lived, however, as we were halted by a chain link barrier along with a sign informing us that the Watch Tower didn’t open for another ninety minutes. This meant we’d have to linger in an area that had virtually NOTHING else around.
Frustrated, I decided to get out of the car and start walking over. This alarmed David who tried stopping me with warnings of how I was trespassing and could get into trouble. David just didn’t realize that we were already behind schedule and needed to get to Aztec, New Mexico by noon. Visiting the Watch Tower was supposed to have happened the night before and we had absolutely no time to sit around waiting for it to open. I was determined to get pictures come hell or high water and had seen enough YouTube clips of the owners to know they were nice people and unlikely to chase us away. And, if worse came to worst, I could always pretend I was “compelled” to trespass like Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I figured if there was one crowd that might actually buy a story like that it was this one. Looking back on it all I must have been suffering from altitude sickness as the thought of spending the night in an adobe prison or being shot at (we were solidly in gun country) never crossed my mind.
By the time I made it to the Watch Tower I noticed David started making his way towards me despite his initial concerns. I continued snapping photos like crazy which wasn’t a surprise as there was a lot to take in. The whole area was loaded with numerous sculptures and a yard full of what can only be described as organized chaos. This was due to the fact that guests of the Watch Tower are encouraged to bring offerings (Judy refers to this place as her “Healing Garden”) resulting in a cornucopia of trinkets and statues.
About fifteen minutes later I noticed a man (Stan Messoline) driving towards us from the property’s homestead on a mini tractor. Honestly, I wasn’t all that surprised. At 300 + pounds and wearing a red shirt my presence there must have been about as subtle as the Phoenix Lights. He pulled up looking none too amused and asked, “Can I help you with something?” I just came right out and told him that I was from Chicago, that we REALLY wanted to see the Watch Tower but had gotten lost the night before and then (without giving him a chance to respond to any of that) pointed to the small hut under the Tower platform and asked if it was a gift shop.
“Yes, it is…and it opens at 10am,” he curtly replied.
“Well…” I said with all the faux confidence I could muster. “If you open it up for us now my friend and I will drop down some cash and make it worth your while.”
He stared at me a couple of seconds before turning around. “Let me go get the keys…and my wife!” He also promised to open the parking lot for us and offered David a lift to the rental car.
When David returned I told him we should dig into our main trip fund and not hold back with the spending. We’d saved a lot of money and certainly had room for a bit of frivolity. David agreed since he and I are of the same mind when it comes to supporting attractions such as these and we’d done the same thing a couple of years back while visiting the Kecksburg, Pennsylvania UFO site.
Stan unlocked the store as promised and later his wife, Judy, came to greet us. I apologized to her for invading their attraction and she waved me off saying not to worry and that she was glad her husband saw us. When we walked into the store David and I were like those kids in the 1971 Willy Wonka movie getting their first glimpse inside the Chocolate factory. The first thing that caught our attention were the UFO photographs. Judy told us that they were the original pictures that MUFON had thrown away after making digital copies. We’d seen many of these during several documentaries and now here were the originals right in front of us!
Merchandise was in no short supply which suited us fine. We each bought a copy of Judy’s book and she told us she was in the process of writing another. She shared stories about the Watch Tower and how numerous psychics suggested her choosing this location was anything but random. They all seemed to believe that deep below the earth we were standing on was a crashed Mother ship. She showed us the drawings they’d made of it and later went out to demonstrate how the location wreaked havoc on her compass.
We told her about our plans to visit the Aztec UFO crash site that afternoon as well as Roswell and Area 51 later in the trip. She said that Area 51 wasn’t much to see and she’d never been to Roswell having heard it had become too commercialized (we didn’t say anything at the time but that was exactly what we two nerdy, shopaholics were hoping for). She gave David her email address and asked if he’d share photos of Roswell which of course he promised he would.
Not wanting to skip our donation to the “Healing Garden,” I’d purchased an alien head at the Dollar Store in Illinois prior to the trip. I thought I was pretty darn clever until I saw the same one for sale in thier gift shop (Doh!). I found a good spot and set it down.
We probably could have stayed and talked with the Messolines for hours but needed to get over to Aztec. I had specific directions on how to get to the 1948 crash site and was confident we could get it done by midday and before the desert heat was in full swing. Unfortunately, this would prove a lot more daunting than either of us could have imagined…
Coming Up…New Mexico’s other UFO crash site!